By Todd R. Hurley, Chief Relationship Officer/Executive Director, Penn Community Foundation
During one recent evening at the Pennridge FISH food pantry, volunteers distributed one bag of carrots and three apples each to the families coming through for food assistance. However, it didn’t take long for the fresh produce to run out, leaving many families without these nutritious – but perishable – items.
Sadly, this scene is often the case when it comes to fresh food distributed to food insecure people across Bucks County; traditional donations often do not meet the need, leaving many families and their children without reliable access to fresh, healthy vegetables and fruits, lean meats and dairy products.
But at Penn Community Bank, we are trying to change that by rethinking our annual food drive.
From Nov. 12 to Dec. 15, we will host our annual Feed-a-Neighbor food drive in partnership with the Bucks County Opportunity Council. This year, however, we are adding a twist:
To help area food pantries increase the amount of fresh, healthy foods they can give to our hungry neighbors, we are encouraging people to donate cash instead of cans. And every cash donation made in one of our branches or online will be matched, dollar for dollar, by Penn Community Foundation, up to $5,000, effectively doubling the impact of each donation.
Hunger in Bucks County
Nearly 1 in 10 Bucks County residents are classified as food insecure, according to data from Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap project. That means more than 50,000 of our neighbors do not have reliable access to food every day. Even worse, more than 12 percent of Bucks County’s children – about 16,640 – are food insecure. When families are forced to rely on food pantries for assistance, too often they find shelves full of sodium- and fat-laden canned and boxed food. If fresh food isn’t available through a food pantry, many of our food insecure neighbors go without; in fact, two thirds of food insecure people surveyed for a 2017 study for the Hunger Nutrition Coalition of Bucks County reported going without fresh fruits and vegetables because they were too expensive!
Cash, Not Cans
Cash donations enable Bucks County’s food pantry network to buy badly needed perishable foods, such as eggs, dairy, beef, poultry, and fruits and vegetables, which are difficult to accept during traditional food drives. Moreover, cash is more economical, as area pantries work with county-wide organizations to increase their buying power. The University of Pennsylvania’s Center for High Impact Philanthropy estimates that food banks can provide meals for a family of four for as little as $11 to $30 per week, versus the $128 to $294 retail cost estimated by the USDA.
All money raised during our Feed-a-Neighbor food drive will be donated to Bucks County Opportunity Council, the lead local agency coordinating food donations to more than 60 pantries across Bucks County. A $1 donation usually can provide two meals to help feed those in need, according to the Opportunity Council, but during our Feed-A-Neighbor campaign, $1 will provide four meals, thanks to the matching donation from Penn Community Foundation. And those meals are badly needed.
A Growing Movement
Thankfully, the situation is improving gradually, as more people become aware of the importance of donating healthier foods to area food pantries. While 65.8 percent of the 2017 survey respondents reported not being able to access fresh produce, that number was a decrease from 73.1 percent in 2013.
The improvement is thanks to the efforts of local organizations that have stepped up efforts to increase the supply of fruits and vegetables available through Bucks County’s food pantries. Rolling Harvest Food Rescue has increased the number of farms to which it sends volunteers to pick up fresh food that otherwise would go to waste. Local churches and gardeners are growing food to donate to their hungry neighbors. And in April 2017, local groups came together to launch Fresh Connect Bucks County, a mobile farmers market for low income families that sets up in Bristol, Warminster and Ottsville each week during the growing season.
Top 5 Ways to Help
Here are five ways you can help support efforts fill Bucks County’s pantry shelves with healthier food:
- Donate cash instead of cans. University of Pennsylvania’s Center for High Impact Philanthropy estimates that food banks can provide meals for a family of four for as little as $11 to $30 per week, versus the $128 to $294 retail cost estimated by the USDA.
- Double your impact. Stop in to any Penn Community Bank branch location between Nov. 12 and Dec. 15 to contribute to the annual Feed-a-Neighbor Food Drive. When you make a cash donation, the Penn Community Foundation will match it, dollar for dollar, up to $5,000.
- Choose healthier options. If you are hosting or donating to a food drive, choose healthier options, such as peanut butter, canned tuna or meat, cooking oil, oatmeal, rice, or 100% juices.
- Plant a garden or volunteer at a community garden. Many area churches grow a community garden and donate the produce to local food pantries.
- Volunteer with local organizations. Check out https://www.bcoc.org/join-us/volunteer/ to learn how you can get involved.